Vidyaamagna: webinar & online lessons

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WEBINAR – THE AESTHETICS OF VARNAM IN KARNATIC MUSIC

Sat, 30 July | 2 pm – 3.30 pm (BST) / 6.30pm (IST)  | £10

STELLA SUBBIAH (Artist Development Lead, Bhavan London)

In conversation with

LUDWIG PESCH (Author of The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music)

VIGNESH ISHWAR (Musician)

Today, as in the remote past, India’s musicians and dancers share a vast and varied repertoire. Apart from facilitating oral transmission, the underlying vocabulary helps to convey feelings underpinned by aesthetic principles and values. So it hardly surprises that the best-loved lyrics are those endowed with scope for reflection and debate among listeners, critics, and the artists themselves.

Mystical Dance!—
—Mazes intricate,
Eccentric, intervolv’d, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem.

Milton’s Paradise Lost (AD 1667), the description of angels dancing about the
sacred hill as quoted by William Hogarth and discussed in the Chapter titled “Variety”:
Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music >>

For this webinar we focus on several key composers whose vision shaped South Indian music and dance as we know it today. We will consider the compositional form of Varnam or Varna, in Karnatic music which can be interpreted as not only colour, praise , or syllable but also as melodic movements. These melodic movements of Arohi, Avarohi, Sthayi, and Sanchari add to its structure and offer various musical possibilities for musical interpretations.

Free tala exercises to supplement this webinar

Adi tala = 8 beats (4+2+2 here simplified as 4+4)
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka dhi mi” = 4, “ta ka ju nu” = 4

1st speed: one beat (kriya) = 1 syllable (jati) = 8 matra per avarta
2nd speed: one beat (kriya) = 2 syllables (jati) = 16 matra per avarta
3rd speed: one beat (kriya) = 4 syllables (jati) = 32 matra per avarta

Ata tala = 14 beats (5+5+2+2, here simplified as 2+3+2+3+4)
“khanda jati ata tala”
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka ta ki ta” = 5, “ta ka dhi mi” = 4

Source: Tāla Anubhava: Experiencing South Indian Rhythm
Concept and audio © T.R. Sundaresan & Ludwig Pesch

Keeping tala e.g. for Adi tala (8 counts): a clap for the first beat (samam), followed by 3 finger counts starting from the small finger marks the first half; and a clap followed by a wave (twice) mark the second half; Ata tala (14 counts) differs as 4 fingers are used including the forefinger (twice), rather than 3 fingers (once) in Adi tala.
Art © Arun V.C.

Tips

  • Practice these gestures “silently” during a live recital or recording
  • Apply your practice while watching a video

More excercises: Practice four widely used Carnatic talas >>

Previous webinar

Find a copy of the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

  • on the publisher’s website: Oxford University Press
  • in a library near you via WorldCat.org
  • from one of several Indian distributors and online bookstores

Food for thought

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

Bharatanatyam
Historically, Bharatanatyam was mostly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, though traces of it were found in the 20th century in what are now Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Today it is taught and practised throughout the globe. The term ‘Bharatanatyam’ has been in existence at least from the 15th century but we do not know the compositions the dancers performed in the early years of Bharatanatyam. […] The repertoire added during the time of Tulaja and Serfoji II owes its credit to four brothers of Tanjavur who belonged to a traditional natyacharya family. They were Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, the ‘Tanjavur Quartet’ we know.

Read the full article by Bharatanatyam music expert BM Sundaram: The Tanjavur Quartet: Margadarsis of Bharatanatyam (Sruti Magazine, courtesy dhvaniohio.org)

Tip: safe-search: Bharatanatyam Serfoji Tanjavur | More search tips >>
(add other search terms in the present context)

Subbulakshmi and contemporary feminism: Sunil Khilnani on BBC Radio 4 Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

M.S. Subbulakshmi
Born 16 September 1916. Died 11 December 2004

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (Tamil: மதுரை சண்முகவடிவு சுப்புலட்சுமி, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi ? 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., was a Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, in 1974 with the citation reading “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the carnatic tradition of South India.”

Source: M.S. Subbulakshmi – New Songs, Playlists, Videos & Tours – BBC Music
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/613361fb-24bd-4bc9-ad63-85ac5bc79156
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:17:14 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of south Indian singer MS Subbulakshmi

Subbulakshmi’s singing voice, striking from the start, would ultimately range three octaves. A perfectionist, she had the capacity to range across genres but narrowed over the years to what another connoisseur of her music has called a ‘provokingly small’ repertoire. In time, the ambitions of those who loved and profited from her combined with her gift to take her from the concert stage to film to the All-India Radio to near-official status as an icon of independent India.

But, as Professor Khilnani says, “what was required of Subbulakshmi, in moving from South Indian musical celebrity to national cultural symbol, is deeply uncomfortable when considered through the prism of contemporary feminism.”

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Incarnations: India in 50 Lives, Subbulakshmi: Opening Rosebuds
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b073b5cb
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:12:31 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary

Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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A lesson (thought experiment) inspired by Gandhi’s understanding of music

Mahatma Gandhi stamp set | Mahatma Gandhi and music >>

The challenge of going beyond a “narrow understanding of classical” music has long been debated among performers and musicologists; whether for the sake of creativity and self-expression or ideals like “serving society through music”, even harnessing the healing power of music where most needed.

So what about reconsidering all of this and more in the light of the following quote:

Mahatma Gandhi often said, ‘We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.’

Arun VC >>

Let us, for a while, experience the joy of music in the light of a common ground, namely that of personal aspirations (like wanting to excel in a playful if not competitive spirit) and the quest for a shared “moral compass” Gandhi is known to have advocated all his life (what binds us together as responsible world citizens). 

This seems a thought experiment worth performing, so here are a few suggestions for teachers, students and lovers of Carnatic music willing to take up the challenge:

Set some time apart in order to (1) explore and grasp the deeper meaning of each of the words and concepts marked bold in the above quote, first from a musical point of view; (2) jot down your findings and thoughts; then (3) discuss them with your teachers, parents or peers; (4) all along keep asking them and yourself whether Gandhi’s intuitive, personal understanding of how music in general should play a role in our lives, while actively engaging with a music that’s time proven as well as meaningful in our modern, hectic lives and rapidly changing societies; (5) possibly being exactly that in the sense of “healing through music”; (6) prompted by Gandhi, consider any one (or all) of these ideas in terms of a “response”, considering the extraordinary stress and tension faced on a daily basis (caused by the multiple crises some of us have to cope with).

It’s up to you to explore all this and more in the spirit of free thinking (*) and – if you like – share your thoughts with me >>

(*) inspired by the BBC Free Thinking podcast about ideas shaping our lives today – with leading artists and thinkers in extended interview and debate >>

For Gandhi, music — whether it was a bhajan like Vaishnava Janato or a patriotic song like Vande Mataram — was a means of development of the “moral self” – Basav Biradar in The Hindu >>

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Mahatma Gandhi on “music of mind, of the senses and of the heart”

“There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart” – Mahatma Gandhi >>
Photo © Ludwig Pesch

Very few people know that Gandhi was extremely fond of Music and arts. Most of us have been all along under the impression that he was against all arts such as music. In fact, he was a great lover of music, though his philosophy of music was different. In his own words ‘Music does not proceed from the throat alone. There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart.’ […] 

According to Mahatma ‘In true music there is no place for communal differences and hostility.’ Music was a great example of national integration because only there we see Hindu and Muslim musicians sitting together and partaking in musical concerts. He often said, ‘We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.’

Source: “Mahatma Gandhi – A unique musician” by Namrata Mishra (Sr. Asst. Prof of Vocal Music, R.C.A. Girls P. G. College, Mathura)
URL: https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/mahatma-gandhi-unique-musician.html
Date Visited: 17 July 2022

Gandhi is a universal figure. […] He is affirmed and avowed in many parts of the world while Indians might of course forget him or scorn him or defile him as they are doing now.

Source: Historian Ramachandra Guha in conversation with sociologist Nandini Sundar, The Wire, 21 March 2022
URL: https://thewire.in/history/ramachandra-guha-history-gandhi-mentors
Date Visited: 22 July 2022

“A historian points out the Mahatma saw morning prayers as a way to inspire discipline and that he used community voices to mobilise people. […] For Gandhi, music — whether it was a bhajan like Vaishnava Janato or a patriotic song like Vande Mataram — was a means of development of the “moral self” which was essential to become a satyagrahi.” – Basav Biradar reviewing ‘Singing Gandhi’s India: Music and Sonic Nationalism’ by Lakshmi Subramanian in The Hindu | Read How Gandhi adopted music on the way to freedom >>

Arun VC >>

Tips

“The tambura is back. But where are the players?” – Interviews in The Hindu

Gaining prominence

Despite the many alternatives available today, fortunately we still get to see the tambura player on stage. In fact, the first thing many musicians do after accepting a concert date is to book their preferred tambura player. As more musicians show a renewed interest in the instrument, the tambura is experiencing a resurgence. Paradoxically, though, the number of dedicated artistes playing it is declining. […]

[Eminent violinist] RK Shriramkumar laments the fact that one needs to refer to the instrument as an acoustic tambura to distinguish it from its electronic version. “It’s a tragedy that musicians have brought upon themselves by settling for electronic versions. Just as instrumentalists are expected to bring their own instruments to concerts, vocalists must be instructed to bring tamburas. Students should be encouraged to play the tambura for their gurus on stage to experience the constant give and take.”

Source: “The tambura is back. But where are the players?” by Lakshmi Anand in The Hindu 2 December 2021

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/the-tambura-is-back-but-where-are-the-players/article37806267.ece

Date accessed: 29 June 2022

Bhava enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions – Narayana Vishwanath

CHENNAI: We are aware that the ultimate aim of every composer and musician is to achieve the coalescence, the essential factors of classical music namely bhava, raga and tala. We know bhava literally means, expression, the expression of existence. In a composition, bhava encompasses the aspects rasa, raga and laya and for a musical composition  to be meaningful and beautiful, it should be rich in bhava. In short, bhava is that which enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions from the composer to the musician and from the musician to the listeners. We understand that bhava has to be experienced by every individual, in a personal and subjective manner and devotion is the pre-dominating aspect depicted in a musical composition. I am  sure it would be of immense value to study the aspects of bhava, expressed by the musical trinity Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, who were contemporaries in the 18th century. […]

Source: “Efficacy of Bhava — An Evaluation” by by Narayana Vishwanath, The New Indian Express (21st September 2015) >>

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Audio |  Vidya Shankar on teaching Carnatic music to children

vidyashankar_vina2000_web_thu
Vidya Shankar (1919-2010)
Listen to an interview with
Vidya Shankar on teaching Carnatic music to children
held at her Chennai home by Ludwig Pesch (24 February 2005)

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Pallavi | A musical tribute to Dr Pia & Prof SA Srinivasan – Sannidi Academy of Music and Arts

Pallavi
Srīnivāsa Pia Priyāya Namaste
Sangīta Sāhitya Rasika


Catusra Jāti Triputa Tāla
Hamsānandi Rāga

This concise vocal composition (pallavi) by Vidvan TR Sundaresan pays tribute (namaste) two outstanding personalities in this field:
Dr. Pia Srinivasan & Prof. SA Srinivasan
whose affection (priya) and discerning patronage (rasika) of the language of music (sangīta sāhitya) could hardly be expressed better than through music itself

Raga Sri | A musical tribute to Dr. Pia Buonomo Srinivasan – Brhaddhvani

Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian and Dr. Meenakshi Subramanian salute Dr. Pia Buonomo Srinivasan (May 15, 1931 – April 8, 2022)1 for her respect and selfless contribution to vina and its tradition. […] We dedicate the raga Sri she loved particularly in her memory. | Read the full tribute posted on the video channel of Brhaddhvani – Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World >>

Karaikudi style is not a family style.
It is a veena style.

THE JOURNAL of THE MUSIC ACADEMY MADRAS
Devoted to the Advancement of the Science and Art of Music
Vol. LXXVII 2006, pp. 28-31

The Karaikudi Style

“Bhani” from “bhanihi” in Sanskrit which is from the root word “bhan” meaning “sound”. “Bhanihi” also has another meaning, “weaving”. Literally it is “weaving with sound”. But when one talks about style, a “bhani” in Carnatic [music], first and foremost is that one recognizes the total personality of the performer speaking through the music performed. The personality encompasses the way in which the performer has lived, the number of years staying with the master, the values held, the music listened to, the aesthetics developed, the right and wrong integrated unto oneself due to lineage or as disciples of the master, and finally the individual limitations and strength. “Bhani” is generally translated as “style” in English.2 […]

Describing a musical style of a parampara3 going back to several generations in the contemporary context becomes even more difficult, especially in an oral tradition such as Indian music.4 The Karaikudi style of veena playing started from Karaikudi veena brothers, Subbarama Iyer, Sambasiva Iyer’s son’s generation veena players in their family.5 No recordings are available of the music of Subbarama Iyer. […]

Karaikudi style is not a family style. It is a veena style. The lecture was presented by live demonstration at the different places to understand the Karaikudi style by Dr K S Subramanian.

YouTube channels & more

References
  1. Date as per official records, corrected from May 14 preferred and shared for personal reasons[]
  2. Tamil பாணி pāṇi , n. U. bānī. Style, manner, peculiarity – University of Madras Tamil Lexicon[]
  3. Sanskrit sishya paramparā, a series or succession of pupils – Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary[]
  4. “The Karaikudi Bani is characterized by Swaras that stand out, alternating Meetu and firmness with clarity one can feel it only when one listens to it. It is just like saying sugar is sweet. You can understand it only by tasting it.” – Ranganayaki Rajagopalan, quoted in Analytical study of the different banis and techniques of playing the saraswathi veena, PhD thesis by R. Jayanthi, University of Mysore 2006, Ch. 9[]
  5. “I was twelve when my parents, Veenai Lakshmi Ammal and Narayana Iyer, decided to give me in adoption to her uncle Sambasiva Iyer, who was concerned about the continuity of our tradition.” – Reminiscences: K Sambasiva Iyer and Mysore Vasudevachar, Narthaki Profiles, March 18, 2008[]

Oral transmission vs. notation in Carnatic music: Pondering the “original pathantaram-s of kriti-s” 

One of the debated topics in Carnatic music is the deviation by musicians from the so-called ‘original’ pathantaram of kriti-s. This article is not an attempt to provide a conclusive answer to end the debate but a constructive provocation and an invitation for opening up the topic for a wider debate. […]

While in matters of art and aesthetics no rule can be imposed on either the artists or their audiences, some relevant considerations in the matter appear to be: Is there incontrovertible proof in all such cases that the ‘versions’—which includes the raga, its arohanaavarohana, mela and musical phrasing—touted as the original or authentic are really the versions composed by their authors? In the case of modern composers there may not be any problem because most of them write them down in notation which, in spite of the inherent limitations of any notation to capture all the nuances of Carnatic music, provides at least a defence against wholesale distortion. In the case of composers who lived during an earlier era of entirely oral transmission of music, there would be real difficulty in ascertaining the authenticity beyond doubt. […]

Read this valuable essay and more on Sruti.com >>

Source: “‘Original’ pathantaram-s of kriti-s” by PK Doraiswamy, Sruti Magazine
URL: https://www.sruti.com/index.php?route=archives/article_details&artId=98
Date Visited: 3 March 2022

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